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Linking molecules with morphology in the -Omics age: computational taxonomy pipelines for nematodes and other microbial metazoa

Holly Bik: University of California, Riverside

<div>Microbial metazoa (organisms <1mm, including nematodes, tardigrades, platyhelminthes, other “minor” metazoan phyla, and eggs/larval stages of larger species) are abundant and ubiquitous in soil/sediment habitats, performing key functions such as nutrient cycling and sediment stability in marine and terrestrial ecosystems. Yet, their unexplored diversity represents one of the major challenges in biology and currently limits our capacity to understand, mitigate and remediate the consequences of environmental change. Microbial metazoa have a strong history of morphological taxonomy (formal species descriptions, specimen drawings, monographs, etc.), but most of this information is offline and thus effectively inaccessible for modern day -Omics studies. In addition, DNA barcoding databases and genome collections lag far behind other groups of microbial organisms such as bacteria, archaea, fungi, and single-celled protists. This sparsity of computational resources severely limits the ecological and evolutionary insights that can be gained from high-throughput sequencing approaches focused on microbial metazoa. Here, I will discuss recent efforts to improve molecular databases and expand bioinformatics pipelines for -Omic studies of “neglected” phyla such as nematodes, focusing on tool development as well as community building efforts.</div>

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